Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shadows and Fog

Living in San Francisco for substantial portions of the last three months, I have spent more time in fog in that time than in the last three years combined. The hilltop home that I have called home thanks to the incredible generosity of my sister- and brother-in-law manages is either in fog or above it more than just about any other part of San Francisco. It is the fun, thick kind, too. On one occasion I missed a turn because an opposing car's headlights turned my view into an opaque white wall.

This week, it turned out that getting out of The City didn't get me away from the fog. Burbank experienced an unusual spate of ground fog this past weekend. As it turns out, my Friday night flight was lucky to land. We could see the fog hugging the ground, but it lifted sufficiently above the deck to allow the airplane to touch down. Sunday night was a different story; the fog shut the airport down. Unfortunately, that meant that there were no airplanes staged to take Monday morning's departing passengers, including me. So when the fog remained, closing the airport until the fog dissipated around 9 am, nobody went anywhere because there were no airplanes there to do the work. Worse, the aircraft were not released from their points of departure to get to Burbank until the fog was gone, so we had to wait at least an hour for any of the airplanes to show up. The first Southwest airplane in came empty from Las Vegas, and then planes started arriving in bunches, stacking up on the small airfield.

My 7 am flight was cancelled, but I rebooked on a 9 am flight while I stood in line with 200 other bewildered passengers at the Southwest checkin desk. After rebooking, I jumped out of line and picked up my new boarding pass at the electronic kiosk. I love living in this era.

Of course, my new flight was delayed, too. We finally boarded our airplane at 11:20, but it did not take off until noon. I finally got to the office by 1:45, after having arisen at 5:30 that morning, expecting to be in the office at 9 as usual on Mondays.

I was impressed that just about everyone kept their cool. The problem was as obvious as looking out the window: the fog was impenetrable, except to confirm that there were no airplanes to take us anywhere anyway. Everybody accepted their lot that day, and dutifully boarded their adjusted flights whenever the planes could jockey into position. There is hope for humanity yet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lost in the Sunset

Former Justice of the Supreme Court Sandra Day O'Connor retired from the Court two years ago, in part to care for her ailing husband of more than 50 years. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1990, and is now living in an assisted living center for Alzheimer's patients.

The O'Connor family disclosed this week that John O'Connor had struck up a romance with another patient in the facility. According to the O'Connors' son, Mr. O'Connor was nearly suicidal at the thought of entering the home, knowing that his end was near, but then rebounded like "a teenager in love" shortly after moving to a new part of the facility. Justice O'Connor is reportedly "thrilled" that her husband is finally relaxed and happy.

Considering Mr. O'Connor's state of altered reality, the story cannot be anything but bittersweet. Having seen dementia up close, I know that it is terribly hard on the family. Although it must be crushing to be the spouse innocently left behind, however, I can also understand the sense of relief that comes from seeing someone who had previously been depressed and confused transition back into happiness. It is a gracious person indeed who can watch the transfer of affections happen and still find some comfort in it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Remembering the Last Veteran

There now remains but one American veteran who saw time in Europe in World War I.

Consumer Goods of the Masses

There was a time, a couple of decades ago, when the mysterious retail center known locally as "The Price Club" worked its way into the edges of the collective consciousness. Odd tales of relish jars as big as toddlers and packs of toilet paper large enough to swaddle the White House worked their way into society like modern folklore. Only a privileged few were permitted to pass the gates of this fantastic place, however, the right to enter apparently based on come arcane formula of vocation, location and, possibly, ritual sacrifice.

The Price Club eventually merged with Costco and bacame a much less mysterious, and much more prominent, force in the American retail world. As with any purveyor of commodities in bulk, Costco has had to fight, accept or otherwise deal with an image issue that assumes that anything sold in such vast quantities must be of low-rent quality. Value, of course, has never been the guiding light of the shopping rich (also known as the idle rich, when they rouse themselves to wear out the AmEx). Scarcity, and its attendant high price, often seems to be the impulse behind the purchase. Why buy a Camry, to top selling car in the U.S. and a fine, competent machine, when you can have a Maserati Quattroporte, an exceedingly fine, and exceedingly rare Italian import? Costco, buy selling everything in staggeringly large quantities and, it must be said, at favorable prices, appears to appeal to the lowest common consumer denominator.

It must be said, however, that Costco is not quite the lowbrow affair its huge warehouses would indicate. Costco has developed a well-deserved reputation of offering high-quality baked goods and meats. Costco sells well known brand names, of course, which carry their own indicia of quality. But Costco also brands its own merchandise, everything from shredded cheese to slacks. Far from the dubious quality of "store brand" labels that we all know and avoid if we can help it, the ubiquitous Kirkland brand is not an identifying mark of cheap, marginal goods. While it is all well and good to wear Armani suits and Gucci loafers, sometimes you just need something that gets you through the week without looking like you are still buying out of the 1985 J.C. Penney's catalog, and without the risk that you will regret your newly-threadbare purchase before the season is out.

America, I'm here to report that you can trust the Kirkland brand T-shirts. Folding my laundry this morning (one of the hidden consequences of being half a state away from Cheryl), I found that the well-known and presumably trusted Jockey brand T-shirts demonstrated all the staying power of the typical overpriced concert shirt, whereas the Kirkland models had retained their size and heft. Economy and quality; whoda thunk it?

That was a long way to go just to find out that one brand of T-shirts is better than another, wasn't it? Man, I love blogs.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

House Sellin' Blues, Verse 2

We're finally running up against some dates that will require action. If we cannot get our house sold within the next couple of weeks, we will not be able to get into a house in the Bay Area in time for the kids to start school in January. Plus, the real estate market typically goes into hibernation from just before Thanksgiving until the spring (or February in California).

We have had what appear to be some serious viewers (would you spend 90 minutes at an open house if you did not intend to buy the house?), but still no offers. We have asked our realtor to lean on a few of these folks as much as he can. We're now into the "if you call now, you will also get these fabulous gifts absolutely FREE!" phase. If we can't induce someone to jump on it within the next 10 days or so, though, we will have missed our window of opportunity for the fall.

Fortunately, we're not trying to fund two mortgages, so we can still afford to be patient. We figure were are within about 5% of the final selling price, but nobody is willing to take the final plunge. The house we like up here is still available, but will it be there in March? Will conditions be better in the spring?

I thought it was my birthright as a Californian to have buyers clamor for the opportunity to outbid each other for my home. Turns out that the old maxim, "location, location, location" has a seldom-quoted codicil: "timing."